Vikings position analysis: Offensive tackles

Injuries to both starters and the early struggles of Matt Kalil hurt the offensive tackles for much of the season. We take a player-by-player look at offensive tackles as well as the group’s performance as a whole.

Carter Bykowski
Bykowski just finished up his first year in the NFL and his first year with the Minnesota Vikings. He was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in 2013 in the seventh round and spent his time there on the practice squad. This season the Vikings signed Bykowski to their active roster once space opened up due to injuries.

Signed on Dec. 10, Bykowski was only with the Vikings for the final three games of the regular season. During that time he was listed as inactive for each game.

Mike Harris
Harris is a third-year player in the NFL and just finished his first year with the Minnesota Vikings. He spent his first seasons in the league with the San Diego Chargers, and spent his rookie season out there under offensive coordinator Norv Turner when he was the head coach of the Chargers.

Harris was claimed by the Vikings via waivers on Aug. 31 from the Chargers. He was brought in as a backup tackle, but was also used in special teams and as the jumbo tight end in goal-line and short-yardage situations. He played in 12 of 16 games.

Once starting right guard Phil Loadholt was place on injured reserve, it was Harris who replaced him. He started the final five games of the season for the Vikings. Overall, Harris did an average job backing up Loadholt, with the exception of the Vikings’ Week 16 game against the Miami Dolphins.

In that game, Pro Football Focus gave Harris a -3.7 rating, and that was mainly due to his poor performance in pass protection. He was credited with allowing two sacks and three quarterback hurries in the season finale.

Matt Kalil
Kalil was drafted fourth overall by the Vikings in 2012, finishing up his third year with the organization. In a season that saw the offensive line get ravished by injuries, Kalil was one of the only two offensive linemen to play in every game this season, joining John Sullivan, but Kalil was the only Viking to play every snap.

It was a season that Kalil will not want to relive as he struggled for the majority of it, allowing 12 total sacks. It all started with getting knee surgery during the offseason, and then having to try to get his knee back to where it needed to be for the regular season. Kalil never seemed to be 100 percent during the season, especially during the beginning of the season.

His lowest point came in Week 6 when the Vikings faced the Detroit Lions at home. PFF gave Kalil a -6.4 rating that game and credited him with allowing three sacks and three quarterback hurries. He also had two penalties called on him during that game.

However, his season did seem to improve after the bye week, and it could have been that his knee was finally starting to feel better. This offseason, Kalil is going to have his knee looked at as soon as possible – instead of waiting like he did last year – and expects to come back into camp for the 2015 season in shape and ready to perform at a Pro Bowl level.

Phil Loadholt
Loadholt just finished up with his sixth year as a Viking after they drafted him out of Oklahoma in 2009. He was only able to play in 11 of the Vikings’ 16 games this season after being place on injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle on Nov. 26.

Prior to that, Loadholt was listed as the Vikings’ best offensive tackle, according to PFF. He ranked No. 34 of 84 tackles.

While on the field, PFF credited Loadholt with allowing five sacks, two of which came in the game against Detroit Week 6, and six quarterback hits.

This offseason, Loadholt will continue to rehab his injured pectoral muscle with the expectation of being able to make it back in time for the start of the regular season and likely most of the offseason program.

Antonio Richardson
Richardson signed with the Vikings this season as an undrafted free agent out of Tennessee. His opportunity was cut short, however, after being placed on injured reserve during the preseason when the Vikings made their final cuts.

He got two knee surgeries in September – one on each knee – and he hopes to be healthy for training camp when July roles around so he can compete for a spot on the team.

Offensive Tackle Overview
The offensive tackle position had to deal with a lot of injuries during the course of the NFL season, and had two of the players being placed on injured reserve. Those injuries also forced the Vikings to bring in multiple players like J’Marcus Webb – who was later released three weeks later – and Bykowski during the course of the year to help fill in as backups in case of more injuries.

With those injuries also came poor play at times by multiple players during multiple games. In total, the offensive tackles – Kalil, Loadhold and Harris – were credited with allowing 22 sacks, 15 quarterback hits, and 69 quarterback hurries. Those aren’t good numbers for a team trying to develop a rookie quarterback who was thrust into the starting role.

There has been speculation that the Vikings will draft a tackle in the first round this offseason due to the poor play by Kalil, but the improved performance by Kalil in the second half of the season should have been enough for him to keep his job safe for another year.

What the Vikings will likely do, though, is bring in more tackles in the offseason, whether it be in the draft or free agency to compete for backup roles and add more depth to the position.

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